Greg Abbott to Bring Texas a Change of Pace, If Not Policy

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By Nathan Koppel, WSJ

Incoming Governor Takes Deliberate, Wonky Approach; a ‘Judge,’ Not a ‘Yell Leader’

exas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott announcing a lawsuit last month against President Obama’s immigration executive action/
exas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott announcing a lawsuit last month against President Obama’s immigration executive action/

After 14 years of Rick Perry’s cowboy swagger, Texas is about to experience a new style of leader.

Republican Greg Abbott, who will be sworn in as the next governor of Texas on Tuesday, shares many conservative stances with Mr. Perry, including a steadfast belief in low taxes and limited government reach. But people who know both men say Mr. Abbott, formerly the state’s attorney general, has a more deliberative approach to governing than Mr. Perry and is more eager to immerse himself in the wonky details of policy-making.

Mr. Abbott is showing some early signs of differing from his predecessor: He has recommended that Texas fund some prekindergarten programs, citing evidence that high-quality, pre-K programs can increase a child’s chances of success. Mr. Abbott also has expressed a willingness to consider how other states expanded the number of people covered by Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which Mr. Perry firmly rejected.

l.wsjIn an interview Wednesday, Mr. Abbott, 57 years old, said he is against the expansion of Medicaid as it exists. “But like anyone with an inquiring mind, we’ll look at any idea anyone has” on how to effectively deliver health care, he said.

Some people close to Mr. Abbott—a former Texas Supreme Court justice who sued the Obama administration more than 30 times as attorney general, including on the health law—say his interest in hearing ideas about Medicaid expansion reflects his penchant for listening to all sides of an issue before making decisions.

“Abbott was a judge; you won’t know how he’s going to rule until he’s had a chance to think it through,” said Republican consultant Dave Carney, an adviser to Mr. Abbott who also has consulted for Mr. Perry.

Noting that Mr. Perry was a former “yell leader”—a cheerleading role—at Texas A&M University football games, Mr. Carney added, “You knew which team Perry was rooting for before you walked in the room.”

Mr. Abbott agreed that his background as a judge would inform his management style. “I view things in a real deliberative type fashion,” he said. “I want all the best information.”

Still, Mr. Abbott’s interest in issues such as state funding of pre-K has surprised some Texas conservatives, who say there is no solid evidence to suggest pre-K funding reaps educational benefits. “I’ve never known Gov. Perry to support such a thing,” said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America We the People, a conservative Texas group.

Mr. Abbott, like other conservatives, also has expressed skepticism about using state incentive payments to lure businesses to Texas, a tool championed by Mr. Perry in getting companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. to move operations to the state. In his campaign for governor against former Democratic state legislator Wendy Davis, Mr. Abbott regularly said that Texas shouldn’t pick “economic winners and losers” by investing in the success of certain companies.

In his rise to the top job in Texas, Mr. Abbott has overcome considerable personal adversity. He was hit by a falling tree while jogging in 1984 and was partially paralyzed. He has had to use a wheelchair ever since.

Texas has been among the nation’s leaders in job and population growth in recent years, but Mr. Abbott takes office just as plummeting oil prices threaten to squeeze state revenue and thwart new jobs.

He also must contend with growth-related pressures, including an aging highway system, inadequate water supplies and public-school financing that a judge has ruled insufficient. The state is appealing the education ruling.

Mr. Abbott, in a speech last week before the Texas Public Policy Foundation nonpartisan think tank, said he would recommend increasing spending in areas such as road construction, while keeping a lid on growth in the overall budget.

He also offered a dose of modesty, cautioning that in boasting about its economic record, Texas may have grown too enamored of itself. “Our lofty status and success is beginning to blind us about some of the things we can and should do better,” he said.

But Mr. Abbott also demonstrated that, like Mr. Perry, he is comfortable with Texas-size bluster. Launching into a lengthy list of state and local regulations that he thinks should be eliminated—including city ordinances restricting plastic bags, fracking and tree removal—he tried to draw distance with a large state to the west.

“Texas is being California-ized,” Mr. Abbott warned.

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